With Christmas just around the bend, gifts are on my mind. Sunday, my family will light the third Advent candle in church, reminding us of the gift chosen for Mary to bear. Last Wednesday, I purchased sleeping bags for our children who hiked over one hundred miles in 2013. And this week I have my own list of items I wouldn’t mind receiving if I’ve made the Nice list.
Gifts. We give them. We receive them. They get wrapped up and shown off a bit more in December, but the truth is that we participate in this mysterious exchange every day.
Since November, the young professionals channel has been discussing obstacles that hinder work and faith integration. There are four and they came from an interview Katherine Leary Alsdorf gave about the book Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work. We’ve covered money, power, and the need to be liked (See link list below). The final topic today is security.
So why am I talking about gifts?
When work and faith complement each other, there is, so to speak, a giving and receiving of gifts. You treat your employees with respect; they feel respected and honor you with hard work in return. You practice honesty on an important business transaction; your client responds by trusting you with more of her investment.
Hundreds of examples could describe this giving and receiving in vocational terms, but the point is that it happens. When it happens well, life tends to go well. Any alteration of this cycle, however, causes damage, and seeking security (read: avoiding risk) can often lead to that alteration. Let me explain.
“Many people make career decisions for security when, in fact, calling is a risky business. Living as God’s people is a risky business. If you’re always just making choices that are secure, and not taking risk, you’re not really open to the ways God could be calling you.”
You’re not really open to the ways God could be calling you. Do you see the connection? She’s talking about an alteration of the giving-receiving cycle.
Chasing security in my career limits the use of the gifts I’ve been given. When I say yes to a narrow band of safe options, I disregard any promising alternatives and turn off the gifts that might be seen through those alternatives. Unwilling to take risks, I end up keeping the gifts to myself.
That isn’t all. By keeping the gifts, I limit what others could gain. I pull my gifts off of the production line in a way that others cannot receive what I have to offer.
Did Mary understand this when she said to the angel, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said” (Luke 1:38)? She seemed to know she couldn’t keep Jesus to herself.
Keep the Gift Moving
Here’s the interesting part. When we give and receive—when we reciprocate—we keep a gift moving. This is important. Lewis Hyde, author of a rather interesting book called The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World, says that a gift must continue to move or else it stops being a gift.
Imagine Mary actually keeping Jesus to herself. Imagine refusing to use your best talents at work. Imagine me hoarding my money instead of honoring our children with sleeping bags.
“[W]hen the gift is used,” Hyde says, “it is not used up. Quite the opposite, in fact: the gift that is not used will be lost, while the one that is passed remains abundant.”
We recognize this conundrum from the Scriptures. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus puts it like this: “Whoever keeps his life will lose it…” (10:39). Jesus knows about giving and receiving. When he speaks these strange words to the disciples, he implies that security can indeed be an obstacle. He knows that when we pull out—when we seek to minimize risk—we’re not really open to the ways God could be calling us. We’re not really willing to keep the gift moving.
Instead, we try to keep our lives.
Do you see how this is true in everything from a simple Christmas present to the very careers we spend our education and years pursuing? It’s like manna, which had to be eaten or else it would rot (Exodus 16:1-26). It’s like the coins in the parable of the talents, where only the money that grew was rewarded, while burying it led to ruin (Matthew 25:14-30).
Consider how theologian Richard Gula talks about giving and receiving as inherent attributes of the Trinity:
“God is eternally the giver or lover (Father), the receiver or beloved (Son), and the gift or love which binds them together (Spirit). When God expresses divine love outside the Trinity, nature comes into being, with the human person being the point at which nature reaches self-consciousness” (Reason Informed by Faith).
Amazing, isn’t it? When God does what God does—perfect giving, perfect receiving—the gift keeps moving. It increases (that’s Hyde’s word) from one thing into something more; it grows into something bigger and better and fuller and richer and more delightful and more wonderful. The Trinity embodies the cycle so well that Eden and Christmas and paychecks and sleeping bags happened!
The gift increased.
So we take risks. We spend a little extra in December. We suspend the tight hold on plans for the future by stepping out a little in faith today.
I want to be open to the ways God could be calling me. Who knows? Maybe I'll discover a few unexpected gifts along the way.
Read more of the work and faith obstacle series here:
- Four Obstacles that Threaten Every Good Endeavor
- The Businessman and the Fisherman
- Young Professionals Pick Freedom Over Money
- Wanting More Power and Getting It
- Powered by Wisdom: My Fall and Rise in the Classroom
- Insecurity at the Office
- The Danger of Securing My Future
- 'Twas the Eve of My First Job